As evening fell upon Madrid, the reflection from the Manzanares River revealed our fortress, the Vicente Calderon, filling gradually with anxious colchoneros, turning out in full force for this early season clash of the Titans.
The stage was set for Atleti to take Barca by the scruff of their neck and let La Liga know that Los Rojiblancos mean business.
The ensuing 90 minutes – barring some glimpses of magic – were a blur of uninventive, uninspiring football which left even the neutral viewer feeling unsatisfied. A lacklustre performance from the home side, that didn’t ever reach the expectations needed for the occasion, saw Atleti lose their first match of the campaign.
Barcelona, despite being plagued by injuries and suspensions, were sharper than Atleti from the first whistle. This was highlighted by Rakitic’s 30 yard dash into the box, and although this was squashed literally by the flying Uruguayan Giménez, it set a tempo that Atleti couldn’t themselves match.
Simeone’s team talk at half time clearly raised the side and with their ears still ringing from the Argentine’s lecture as they took to the field, Los Rojiblancos stepped their foot on the gas.
In the 50th minute, Atleti turned up the heat on their opponents, who hadn’t really picked up where they left off after the dominant display they produced in the first half.
A series of one touch passes guided the ball to the veteran midfielder Tiago who had seen Fernando Torres in acres of space.
The pass had to be perfectly weighted and precise, it was both. El Niño had spent the entire first half testing and probing the Barca back four but now he had his moment.
As the ball spun out in front of our living legend, Torres had already made the run. His angles were in line and it was simply a question of beating Jordi Alba for pace, no easy task.
Torres only had one shot and a split second too early, it would have rattled the post and made its way out for a goal kick, a half second too late and Jordi Alba, who had hit turbo speed, would have been able to block it.
The ball nestled into the back of the net sending the Atleti faithful wild. Pure pandemonium had erupted at the Calderon as the eternal thorn in Barca’s side, Fernando Torres, had put his boyhood club one nil up.
The attitude of Atleti had turned. The aggressive animal that had Europe trembling was back – but three minutes later, it proved to be our downfall.
Antoine Griezmann had tracked all the way back to the edge of his own box but the trickery of Neymar allowed the Brazilian to cut away. In response, our French ace brought his rival down just outside of the box.
In almost the exact spot where Griezmann had scored on the opening day of the season, Neymar placed the ball.
The Brasilian then released an unstoppable free kick, which brought the morale of the eleven red and white warriors straight back down to the depths that they had struggled to emerge from in the first half.
As Atleti struggled to maintain any kind of rhythm, Barca grew more and more into the game and with the introduction of Lionel Messi the pendulum had well and truly swung in favour of the away side.
A classic Barca goal, finished off by Messi, made sure of the 3 points heading back to Catalunya and condemned Atleti to their first defeat of the season.
Post-game notes and quotes
Juanfran: “We’ll get over this result by winning on Tuesday.”
As if the back four hadn’t been through enough, Godín, Juanfran and Giménez all faced the press.
“It wasn’t our best performance, but our burning desire to win was always there and it showed.” Giménez said, as he addressed his team’s average showing.
“Getting the breakthrough so early in the second half brought us a calmness that was then wiped out by an incredible goal by Neymar, which was a sucker punch.”
As much as the second goal could have been avoided, Neymar’s freekick was pure excellence (I admit through gritted teeth) and to beat Oblak, it had to be.
“In terms of the second goal, we could have, as a team, done more. Barcelona only ever need half a chance to score and unfortunately we offered it to them,” the young Uruguayan finished.
Juanfran then took questions.
“There are some games where everything goes your way, like the Sevilla game, and then there are others like today where we aren’t at our best and up against elite opposition. They made us pay for it.”
“No one is more critical of our own performances than ourselves, but we always do so with the knowledge that we can and will improve in order for our perspective to change,” Juanfran finished.
Godín offered a less tranquil response as he was quizzed about the significance of this loss.
“I’m not one to discuss who were rightful winners in terms of the scoreline. It is what it is. They took advantage of their chances and we passed up on the chances we had, that’s it. There’s no need to justify this loss, we keep moving forward as the season is still very young.”
The man for all seasons
Fernando Torres is still without a doubt a big game player and had no trouble displaying that against arguably the strongest team we’ll come up against in Europe – take note Grizi.
Of course he’s not the predator that he was 11 years ago but what he lacks in speed and agility he more than makes up for with positioning and experience.
His ability to ruffle the feathers of centre backs not only creates that extra space for himself, but also gives the supporting cast more room in which to hurt the opposition.
His goal against Barca highlighted this as he wedged himself in between his markers, left them for dead and then rolled back the years with an untouchable first time finish.
The Final Thoughts
- Griezmann was disappointing to say the least and kept up his habit of disappearing against Barca. Granted, supporting Torres, whose game is based on a slower build up can hold him back slightly, the Frenchman still needs to make more of an impact in such important games.
- Giménez put his body on the line on more than one occasion and embodied the warrior spirit that despite being present within the rest of the team, just couldn’t be channeled into anything productive.
- Oblak was sharp and assertive in between the sticks. He had faced head on the most fearsome threesome in Europe and was beaten by two world class goals. The Slovenian’s communication with his defence has improved drastically and in turn his four man shield have placed more trust in the number 1(3).